USMLE Prep: Stop cramming, start early and understand the concepts!

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How to successfully pass your medical exams using e-learning resources

Starting medical school, many students are overwhelmed with the amount of information they have to learn over the next couple years. On their journey to become a good physician they study hard, seemingly never having enough time. Moreover, they realise that it is almost impossible to learn all exam-relevant topics simply by attending class. Here we present strategies to successfully crush your board exams by following a sustainable study routine and using e-learning resources!

Stop cramming!

Every (medical) student has done it at least once: Exam cramming! Some call it “speed studying”, others refer to it as the night shifts before the exam revising relevant content as quickly and efficiently as possible. Here is what the urban dictionary says about “cramming”: “the act of attempting to learn large amounts of information in a short period of time, esp. for a test in high school or college”.

When cramming, students try to utilize their short term memory. It acts as a sort of filter that helps to concentrate only on the information that they are confronted in the next exam.

The problem: They barely use their long term memory – the memory that is essential to get through all board exams and that builds the fundamental knowledge for your medical practice after university. Furthermore, short term memory is very limited in size, even if retrieval of information is easier in the short term.

Exam cramming for every medical test is very risky and will not let you pass your exam with excellence. So stop (solely) cramming!

Instead:

Start early and thoroughly understand the concepts!!

See your first two years of medical school as a phase of continuous preparation for the USMLE Step 1. By constantly reviewing your study material, you are activating your short term memory each time which then transfers it to your long term memory. You are able to learn more quickly, the more you review. Which results in easier storage in your long term memory and it will be easier it is to retrieve it later on.

An extensive exam preparation phase is not only more effective and less stressful, it helps you to internalize the essential medical concepts. This will also help you identify connections between fields like pathology, anatomy and physiology right from the beginning. It is not enough to answer as many practice questions as possible. Only with a solid foundation of the basic medical concepts can you easily adjust to new challenges in the exams. And remember, studying medicine is more than just getting a good score, you want to be become a good physician too.

E-Learning can’t buy you time, but efficiency

As a medical student you know: No matter how early you start, there is never enough time! Therefore, when searching for the best study resource, aka your long-term study companion, it is essential to identify the most efficient learning method and format which adapts perfectly to your needs.

Medical videos are a format that supports both audio and visual learners. Using e-learning resources may not buy you additional studying time, but they can help you to use your available time as efficiently as possible.

In order to do so, the perfect medical e-learning resource should

  1. be able to combine high-yield content with in-depth training: The content should exclusively include exam-relevant concepts which are explained in a concise and precise manner.
  2. be comprehensive and complete: Your perfect e-learning resource has all USMLE relevant topics as you do not have the time to search for a new review course for each new concept.
  3. include high-quality content: Choosing video lectures by elite professors from top universities using the best teaching methods will quicken your understanding of medical concepts.
  4. be simple and intuitive: A clear navigation and a good search function helps you to find the topics in a minimum amount of time; useful video player and download features improve the usability of your resources.
  5. be interactive: Recall and USMLE-style questions retain your knowledge and let you test whether you have understand the medical concept.
  6. be comfortably available: The learning material is ideally available on all devices (smartphone, desktop and tablet), even offline, to have the opportunity to learn anywhere and everywhere you want.
  7. include additional reading material: Printable slides, topic reviews etc. are a perfect way to reinforce your knowledge.

To sum it up, the right e-learning resource gives you the confidence to get the right topics, saves you time and improves your understanding of medical concepts tremendously! One good recommendation is Lecturio as it includes all the above-mentioned requirements.

How to include e-learning into your study routine

At the end of each term, medical students are examined on all subjects covered so far in their studies. As a preparation for the lectures and the exams, the students look for lectures which are recorded, but often they are not concise enough. Furthermore the look for workbooks, but these are usually too big. They have many pages on one subject and it’s hard to just find the important information you need without reading too many pages.

This is when online medical videos come into play. Students often find it easier to grasp a topic if someone is talking to them. To not have to search for appropriate video content again and again (in Google search, on YouTube…) it is good to have one platform which has all USMLE relevant topics.

Furthermore, to understand the basic medical concepts, you should never leave stuff to the last minute. Start watching the video lectures at the beginning of the term to grasp the upcoming topics even before your lecture at university. Go through additional reading material to get a first understanding of what is going on. Watch the videos multiple times – not only at home, but also on the go, e.g. when traveling to university. Use the available time outside library and home efficiently.

As the term progresses, you build on those fundamentals with the lectures at the university and your books. To make sure that you have get everything right, watch the videos again at the end of the term.

About the author:

Martin Schlichte founded his first company when he was 17 years old—it gave him the means to finance his university studies at Mannheim University and the Leipzig Graduate School of Management (HHL). Immediately after graduating in 2008, Martin founded the e-learning startup Lecturio and continues to be its CEO. With a current staff of around 80 employees, Lecturio has developed into one of the most successful e-learning companies in Europe. Furthermore, since 2016, Lecturio.com provides users worldwide with a comprehensive, theoretical medical education with lecturers from Harvard and other Ivy League universities.